Wanderlust: On the road to self-discovery

It's 10 a.m. and an eatery at the New Delhi Railway Station is bursting at seams with travellers. Nishant Sinha, 23, is slurping his morning cuppa, thrilled as he sets out on his maiden sojourn to the mighty Himalayas -- all by himself.

Sinha, fresh out of an engineering college in the capital, is amongst a growing breed of young Indian travellers who believe that a backpack is the best companion on a trip and travelling alone is the best way to explore yourself.

"On this trip, I don't have a plan. I just have my bag and will go wherever the road takes me. I believe it will be a journey full of learning," Sinha told IANS.

In India, travelling alone and backpacking have long been associated with hippies and gypsies. But Sinha disagrees.

"It's strange how people think it's not an Indian concept. The Indian history always has had stories of young students going to distant places for education and travel. The Indian sadhus are the ultimate backpackers," he says.

In any case, travelling alone without a plan seems to be a hard way of life. A shoestring budget doesn't help either. But travellers often brave it all.

"I am in college and students never have much money. But the wanderlust is too great. There's always a new discovery to be made," says Syed Rahman, a student at Jawaharlal Nehru University.

Rahman, 20, has already crisscrossed northern India in his two years of college life.

However, money is not the only issue. There is a lot of societal pressures when it comes to backpacking.

Prashant Teki, 27, has travelled extensively, often on a bike.

"In western countries, youngsters often take a year off to contemplate and find a direction in their lives. Often, this period includes a lot of travel but in India, the youngsters are often under huge pressure to take a job, earn money and start a family," Teki told IANS.

In Paharganj -- the backpacker hub of Delhi -- Dietrich Munz haggles with the autorickshaw driver. He's been coming to India for 37 years now and knows all about the swindling auto drivers.

Munz, 71, loves India. But the German isn't a typical tourist. An ascetic man, a small bag is all he carries and the last time he had a fixed plan in life was in the 1980s.

"I've been coming here since I was 34 and yet I am not done. This country has so much to offer to a traveller," Munz says.

He's happy how the trend's catching up in India and has caught the imagination of so many youngsters.

"Earlier, travelling alone was a largely western concept. But these days I see a lot of Indians treading the beaten path, often backpacking and even travelling alone," he says.

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